Sandia Testing May Lead to New Nuclear Weapons

Nevada's Governor Guinn Will Take President Bush's Yucca Mountain Recommendation to Court

* Sandia National Laboratory is currently testing hardware that could be a component to a new nuclear warhead designed to attack underground bunkers. Although the military has not yet placed any orders for the new conceptual weapon, federal defense officials have asked Sandia and the other U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories to begin researching the technology necessary to penetrate underground bunkers, according to Paul Robinson, president of Sandia.

Robinson said that Sandia was in "high-gear" following the September 11th attacks, working on a range of anti-terror technologies. Several of these developments were used following the attacks, including anthrax decontamination foam and aircraft-mounted radar used to develop detailed airstrike maps.

Due to the expanded responsibilities Sandia now faces, the budget of the lab increased 8.5 percent, to $1.7 billion. Much of that increase is in Sandia's nuclear weapons budget. President Bush's proposed 2003 budget requested a 13 percent budget increase for Sandia's nuclear weapons work.

Robinson is optimistic about Sandia's expanded responsibilities in nuclear weapons design. According to Robinson, Sandia's work almost atrophied during the 1990s. Robinson said that the new design work will focus on expanding the design for a nuclear weapon originally presented in the late 1980s. That warhead was built and sent to the Nevada Test Site for testing, but was shelved before any were built.

However, Robinson is anticipating that the new design work will be difficult considering that the warhead necessary for penetrating underground bunkers would have to be able to survive collision with the earth, then burrow underground before detonating.

Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn said Sunday that, although his veto of President Bush's decision to recommend Yucca Mountain as the first high-level nuclear waste repository in the nation may fail in Congress, he still has hope for litigation against the decision. Guinn said, "We're going to fight this issue in the court because we think we can prove the lack of sound science."

Attorneys representing Nevada have filed three lawsuits in the past nine months alleging that the selection of Yucca Mountain, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is scientifically flawed. According to Guinn, 88 percent of Nevada's voters do not agree with the selection of Yucca Mountain as the official repository for disposing of 77,000 tons of highly radioactive waste. Guinn said that following the above-ground nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site, which exposed many Nevada workers and downwinders to dangerous levels of radioactive fallout, Nevadans have "learned the hard way" the importance of sound science in matters of nuclear technologies.

Although Guinn is first vetoing Bush's decision in Congress, he is not optimistic about the outcome. "We don't have a chance [of sustaining the veto] in the House ..." although the outlook in the Senate looks better. Nevertheless, Guinn mentioned that Nevada currently has approximately $6 million for litigation, and Guinn is confident that he can get more money for the litigation in the next session of the Nevada State Congress. However, Guinn said that it will be a difficult fight because there are 39 states with nuclear power plants that want to move their waste to Nevada.

Back to News Index